Minister of Justice Ionas Nicolaou admitted on Thursday that mistakes were made in the police security handling of a football match at Nicosia’s GSP stadium which received heavy criticism after a young APOEL fan lost his eye in an apparent unprovoked hooligan attack.
Speaking to the media following a meeting with the police leadership, Nicolaou pledged that responsibility would be apportioned for the clear security failures at the APOEL – AEL game on Tuesday. Fifteen supporters and a number of police officers were injured after violent scuffles broke out between fans of both clubs before the game on the nearby Nicosia-Limassol motorway.
“The situation that was allowed to develop during Tuesday’s game was completely unacceptable,” said Nicolaou who described the match as “the first big test” for newly appointed Chief of Police Zacharias Chrysostomou.
The minister confirmed that upon the recommendation of the Attorney General an independent investigator has been assigned to examine the security failures. Once the probe is completed decisive action will be taken, he added.
“I want to make it clear to the police that whenever security failures are identified responsibility will be apportioned. The government and society demand measures that set a clear example.”
Nicolaou said he will not make excuses for police mistakes or allow himself to be made a scapegoat for police operations gone wrong.
“My responsibility is to coordinate various departments with the police but it is not within my authority to plan police operations or make arrests.”
Asked to comment on the stance the Cyprus Football Association (CFA) and football clubs took following the trouble at the game, Nicolaou said he was extremely disappointed.
“We hoped that as the governing body of the sport the CFA would take its share of responsibility but unfortunately football clubs still fail to cooperate with the authorities on issues such as the identification of dangerous fans.”
According to Nicolaou, the ministry is pushing forward a bill to allow the fast-rack prosecution of football hooligans - within 24 hours of their arrests – which is considered an effective way to deter violence in sport.
“The bill is currently being examined by the Legal Services and is expected to be tabled before the House for discussion within the next few days.”
So far nine people have been arrested in connection with the violence that also brought traffic on the nearby motorway to a complete standstill for over an hour and caused damage to several cars, motorcycles and properties in the area.